Referendum on presidency could be held in early 2017: Minister

Referendum on presidency could be held in early 2017: Minister

Referendum on presidency could be held in early 2017: Minister A referendum on the country’s new charter, which stipulates the adoption of an executive presidential system, could be held in early 2017 if two parties settle on the terms, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has said.

“If parliament puts [the constitutional charter] on its agenda and makes a decision at once, [the referendum] will be held in 2017, no later than the spring. But it seems difficult to complete it before 2017 since there is a legislative process in the parliament,” he said in a televised interview on Oct. 14.

“We have a very short, two-and-a-half month period ahead of us, but to get it done in 2017, before the spring, seems manageable as long as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) agree on a date for the parliamentary vote,” he said.

“When the two parties agree, we will see the referendum. If not, [the constitutional change] will be left as a discussion,” Bozdağ added.

In his first statement after MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli hinted he could support a referendum on a presidential system, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said public opinion surveys indicated that the Turkish people favored the adoption of an executive presidential system.  

Calling on political parties to bring the proposition to a public vote, Erdoğan said: “I am telling the political parties in the parliament that if ‘the sovereignty rests unconditionally with the nation,’ then let’s bring it to the nation. If my people say yes, then we will celebrate it and take a step to the presidential system.”

In response to main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) concerns that opening a debate about the system could cause instability, the president said, “Political parties taking an initiative for a new constitution and a presidential system will not weaken political parties; on the contrary, it will make them stronger.”

Although Bahçeli’s words pleased the AKP, whose ultimate goal is to change the system, there are still unclear points about the nationalist leader’s real intention. Bozdağ indicated that they interpreted Bahçeli’s proposal as genuine and that other political calculations would be futile.

“From Bahçeli’s comments, I have an understanding that he would back the presidential system proposal in the parliamentary process,” Bozdağ said.

“I see a great benefit in discussing this with the MHP since there is a possibility of this party’s support in the voting process. Of course, the AKP will make the final decision on the scope of the proposal to be presented to the public vote as to whether it will include just a presidential system or will be a wide-ranged one,” he added.

Text to be finalized in 10 days

Mustafa Şentop, the chairman of the constitutional commission in parliament and an AKP deputy, also indicated spring 2017 as a date for a possible referendum if 330 deputies agree on the constitutional change.

In a televised interview on late Oct. 12, Şentop stated that a new constitutional amendment draft could be finalized in one week or 10 days. Elaborating on the road map if a popular referendum favors a presidential system, he said there were a number of possible course of action, including passing a temporary article to pave the way for a transition period or an election could come to the agenda.

MHP: Bahçeli did not favor presidential system

Although remarks by Bahçeli were interpreted as covert support in the parliamentary vote for a constitutional amendment, some MHP parliamentarians stressed that Bahçeli may aim to close the discussion on a presidential regime shift by voting against the AKP’s proposal in parliament. 

Bahçeli did not say he supported a presidential system but favors the continuation and strengthening of the parliamentarian system, MHP deputy group chairman Erkan Akçay told reporters on Oct. 14

Prime minister to meet with party leaders

The AKP plans to meet with party leaders to discuss the scope of the constitutional amendment and presidential system next week, the AKP’s executive board has decided, with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım expected to lead separate meetings. 

The MHP’s position about the presidential vote in parliament will be determined after discussions to be held with MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli.

Any constitutional amendment necessitates at least 367 votes out of 550 parliamentary representatives; if a proposal garners 330 or more votes, then the charter has to be presented to the public in a referendum. 

The AKP holds 316 seats in parliament and requires at least 14 additional votes to be able to put any constitutional amendment to a referendum.